Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position.
As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda. Propaganda can be used as a form of political warfare.
While the term propaganda has acquired a strongly negative connotation by association with its most manipulative and jingoistic examples, propaganda in its original sense was neutral, and could refer to uses that were generally benign or innocuous, such as public health recommendations, signs encouraging citizens to participate in a census or election, or messages encouraging persons to report crimes to the police, among others.
The English term is an 18th century coinage, from the Latin feminine gerund of propagare “to propagate”, originally in Congregatio de Propaganda Fide “Congregation for Propagating the Faith”, a committee of cardinals established in 1622 by Gregory XV. In its turn, the word propagare is related to the word propages, “a slip, a cutting of a vine” and refers to the gardener’s practice to disseminate plants by planting shoots.
The term is not pejorative in origin and its political sense dates back to World War I.
Defining propaganda has always been a problem. The main difficulties have involved differentiating propaganda from other types of persuasion, and avoiding an “if they do it then that’s propaganda, while if we do it then that’s information and education” biased approach. Garth Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell have provided a concise, workable definition of the term: “Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.” More comprehensive is the description by Richard Alan Nelson: “Propaganda is neutrally defined as a systematic form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for ideological, political or commercial purposes through the controlled transmission of one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels. A propaganda organization employs propagandists who engage in propagandism—the applied creation and distribution of such forms of persuasion.”
Both definitions focus on the communicative process involved — more precisely, on the purpose of the process, and allow “propaganda” to be considered objectively and then interpreted as positive or negative behavior depending on the perspective of the viewer or listener.
Propaganda is generally an appeal to emotion, not intellect. It shares techniques with advertising and public relations, each of which can be thought of as propaganda that promotes a commercial product or shapes the perception of an organization, person, or brand. In post-World War II usage the word “propaganda” more typically refers to political or nationalist uses of these techniques or to the promotion of a set of ideas, since the term had gained a pejorative meaning. The refusal phenomenon was eventually to be seen in politics itself by the substitution of “political marketing” and other designations for “political propaganda”.
Propaganda was often used to influence opinions and beliefs on religious issues, particularly during the split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches. Propaganda has become more common in political contexts, in particular to refer to certain efforts sponsored by governments, political groups, but also often covert interests. In the early 20th century, propaganda was exemplified in the form of party slogans. Also in the early 20th century the term propaganda was used by the founders of the nascent public relations industry to describe their activities. This usage died out around the time of World War II, as the industry started to avoid the word, given the pejorative connotation it had acquired.
Literally translated from the Latin gerundive as “things that must be disseminated”, in some cultures the term is neutral or even positive, while in others the term has acquired a strong negative connotation. The connotations of the term “propaganda” can also vary over time. For example, in Portuguese and some Spanish language speaking countries, particularly in the Southern Cone, the word “propaganda” usually refers to the most common manipulative media — “advertising”.
In English, “propaganda” was originally a neutral term used to describe the dissemination of information in favor of any given cause. During the 20th century, however, the term acquired a thoroughly negative meaning in western countries, representing the intentional dissemination of often false, but certainly “compelling” claims to support or justify political actions or ideologies. This redefinition arose because both the Soviet Union and Germany’s government under Hitler admitted explicitly to using propaganda favoring, respectively, communism and Nazism, in all forms of public expression. As these ideologies were repugnant to liberal western societies, the negative feelings toward them came to be projected into the word “propaganda” itself.
Roderick Hindery argues that propaganda exists on the political left, and right, and in mainstream centrist parties. Hindery further argues that debates about most social issues can be productively revisited in the context of asking “what is or is not propaganda?” Not to be overlooked is the link between propaganda, indoctrination, and terrorism/counterterrorism. He argues that threats to destroy are often as socially disruptive as physical devastation itself.
Propaganda also has much in common with public information campaigns by governments, which are intended to encourage or discourage certain forms of behavior (such as wearing seat belts, not smoking, not littering and so forth). Again, the emphasis is more political in propaganda. Propaganda can take the form of leaflets, posters, TV and radio broadcasts and can also extend to any other medium. In the case of the United States, there is also an important legal (imposed by law) distinction between advertising (a type of overt propaganda) and what the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an arm of the United States Congress, refers to as “covert propaganda”.
Journalistic theory generally holds that news items should be objective, giving the reader an accurate background and analysis of the subject at hand. On the other hand, advertisements evolved from the traditional commercial advertisements to include also a new type in the form of paid articles or broadcasts disguised as news. These generally present an issue in a very subjective and often misleading light, primarily meant to persuade rather than inform. Normally they use only subtle propaganda techniques and not the more obvious ones used in traditional commercial advertisements. If the reader believes that a paid advertisement is in fact a news item, the message the advertiser is trying to communicate will be more easily “believed” or “internalized”.
Such advertisements are considered obvious examples of “covert” propaganda because they take on the appearance of objective information rather than the appearance of propaganda, which is misleading. Federal law specifically mandates that any advertisement appearing in the format of a news item must state that the item is in fact a paid advertisement.
The propagandist seeks to change the way people understand an issue or situation for the purpose of changing their actions and expectations in ways that are desirable to the interest group. Propaganda, in this sense, serves as a corollary to censorship in which the same purpose is achieved, not by filling people’s minds with approved information, but by preventing people from being confronted with opposing points of view. What sets propaganda apart from other forms of advocacy is the willingness of the propagandist to change people’s understanding through deception and confusion rather than persuasion and understanding. The leaders of an organization know the information to be one sided or untrue, but this may not be true for the rank and file members who help to disseminate the propaganda.
More in line with the religious roots of the term, it is also used widely in the debates about new religious movements (NRMs), both by people who defend them and by people who oppose them. The latter pejoratively call these NRMs cults. Anti-cult activists and countercult activists accuse the leaders of what they consider cults of using propaganda extensively to recruit followers and keep them. Some social scientists, such as the late Jeffrey Hadden, and CESNUR affiliated scholars accuse ex-members of “cults” who became vocal critics and the anti-cult movement of making these unusual religious movements look bad without sufficient reasons.
Propaganda is a powerful weapon in war; it is used to dehumanize and create hatred toward a supposed enemy, either internal or external, by creating a false image in the mind. This can be done by using derogatory or racist terms, avoiding some words or by making allegations of enemy atrocities. Most propaganda wars require the home population to feel the enemy has inflicted an injustice, which may be fictitious or may be based on facts. The home population must also decide that the cause of their nation is just.
Propaganda is also one of the methods used in psychological warfare, which may also involve false flag operations. The term propaganda may also refer to false information meant to reinforce the mindsets of people who already believe as the propagandist wishes. The assumption is that, if people believe something false, they will constantly be assailed by doubts. Since these doubts are unpleasant, people will be eager to have them extinguished, and are therefore receptive to the reassurances of those in power. For this reason propaganda is often addressed to people who are already sympathetic to the agenda. This process of reinforcement uses an individual’s predisposition to self-select “agreeable” information sources as a mechanism for maintaining control.
Propaganda can be classified according to the source and nature of the message. White propaganda generally comes from an openly identified source, and is characterized by gentler methods of persuasion, such as standard public relations techniques and one-sided presentation of an argument. Black propaganda is identified as being from one source, but is in fact from another. This is most commonly to disguise the true origins of the propaganda, be it from an enemy country or from an organization with a negative public image. Grey propaganda is propaganda without any identifiable source or author. A major application of grey propaganda is making enemies believe falsehoods using straw arguments: As phase one, to make someone believe “A”, one releases as grey propaganda “B”, the opposite of “A”. In phase two, “B” is discredited using some strawman. The enemy will then assume “A” to be true.
In scale, these different types of propaganda can also be defined by the potential of true and correct information to compete with the propaganda. For example, opposition to white propaganda is often readily found and may slightly discredit the propaganda source. Opposition to grey propaganda, when revealed (often by an inside source), may create some level of public outcry. Opposition to black propaganda is often unavailable and may be dangerous to reveal, because public cognizance of black propaganda tactics and sources would undermine or backfire the very campaign the black propagandist supported.
Propaganda may be administered in insidious ways. For instance, disparaging disinformation about the history of certain groups or foreign countries may be encouraged or tolerated in the educational system. Since few people actually double-check what they learn at school, such disinformation will be repeated by journalists as well as parents, thus reinforcing the idea that the disinformation item is really a “well-known fact”, even though no one repeating the myth is able to point to an authoritative source. The disinformation is then recycled in the media and in the educational system, without the need for direct governmental intervention on the media. Such permeating propaganda may be used for political goals: by giving citizens a false impression of the quality or policies of their country, they may be incited to reject certain proposals or certain remarks or ignore the experience of others.
Common media for transmitting propaganda messages include news reports, government reports, historical revision, junk science, books, leaflets, movies, radio, television, and posters. Less common nowadays are letterpost envelopes examples of which of survive from the time of the American Civil War. In principle any thing that appears on a poster can be produced on a reduced scale on a pocket-style envelope with corresponding proportions to the poster. The case of radio and television, propaganda can exist on news, current-affairs or talk-show segments, as advertising or public-service announce “spots” or as long-running advertorials. Propaganda campaigns often follow a strategic transmission pattern to indoctrinate the target group. This may begin with a simple transmission such as a leaflet dropped from a plane or an advertisement. Generally these messages will contain directions on how to obtain more information, via a web site, hot line, radio program, et cetera (as it is seen also for selling purposes among other goals). The strategy intends to initiate the individual from information recipient to information seeker through reinforcement, and then from information seeker to opinion leader through indoctrination.
A number of techniques based in social psychological research are used to generate propaganda. Many of these same techniques can be found under logical fallacies, since propagandists use arguments that, while sometimes convincing, are not necessarily valid.
Some time has been spent analyzing the means by which the propaganda messages are transmitted. That work is important but it is clear that information dissemination strategies become propaganda strategies only when coupled with propagandistic messages. Identifying these messages is a necessary prerequisite to study the methods by which those messages are spread. Below are a number of techniques for generating propaganda:
- Ad hominem
- A Latin phrase that has come to mean attacking one’s opponent, as opposed to attacking their arguments.
- Ad nauseam
- This argument approach uses tireless repetition of an idea. An idea, especially a simple slogan, that is repeated enough times, may begin to be taken as the truth. This approach works best when media sources are limited or controlled by the propagator.
- Appeal to authority
- Appeals to authority cite prominent figures to support a position, idea, argument, or course of action.
- Appeal to fear
- Appeals to fear and seeks to build support by instilling anxieties and panic in the general population, for example, Joseph Goebbels exploited Theodore Kaufman’s Germany Must Perish! to claim that the Allies sought the extermination of the German people.
- Appeal to prejudice
- Using loaded or emotive terms to attach value or moral goodness to believing the proposition. Used in biased or misleading ways.
- Bandwagon and “inevitable-victory” appeals attempt to persuade the target audience to join in and take the course of action that “everyone else is taking”.
- Inevitable victory
- Invites those not already on the bandwagon to join those already on the road to certain victory. Those already or at least partially on the bandwagon are reassured that staying aboard is their best course of action.
- Join the crowd
- This technique reinforces people’s natural desire to be on the winning side. This technique is used to convince the audience that a program is an expression of an irresistible mass movement and that it is in their best interest to join.
- Beautiful people
- The type of propaganda that deals with famous people or depicts attractive, happy people. This makes other people think that if they buy a product or follow a certain ideology, they too will be happy or successful.
- Big Lie
- The repeated articulation of a complex of events that justify subsequent action. The descriptions of these events have elements of truth, and the “big lie” generalizations merge and eventually supplant the public’s accurate perception of the underlying events. After World War I the German Stab in the back explanation of the cause of their defeat became a justification for Nazi re-militarization and revanchist aggression.
- Black-and-white fallacy
- Presenting only two choices, with the product or idea being propagated as the better choice. For example: “You’re either with us, or against us….”
- Classical conditioning
- All vertebrates, including humans, respond to classical conditioning. That is, if object A is always present when object B is present and object B causes a negative physical reaction (e.g., disgust, pleasure) then we will when presented with object A when object B is not present, we will experience the same feelings.
- Cognitive dissonance
- People desire to be consistent. Suppose a pollster finds that a certain group of people hates his candidate for senator but love actor A. They use actor A’s endorsement of their candidate to change people’s minds because people cannot tolerate inconsistency. They are forced to either to dislike the actor or like the candidate.
- Common man
- The “plain folks” or “common man” approach attempts to convince the audience that the propagandist’s positions reflect the common sense of the people. It is designed to win the confidence of the audience by communicating in the common manner and style of the target audience. Propagandists use ordinary language and mannerisms (and clothe their message in face-to-face and audiovisual communications) in attempting to identify their point of view with that of the average person. For example, a propaganda leaflet may make an argument on a macroeconomic issue, such as unemployment insurance benefits, using everyday terms: “Given that the country has little money during this recession, we should stop paying unemployment benefits to those who do not work, because that is like maxing out all your credit cards during a tight period, when you should be tightening your belt.”
- Cult of personality
- A cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. The hero personality then advocates the positions that the propagandist desires to promote. For example, modern propagandists hire popular personalities to promote their ideas and/or products.
- Demonizing the enemy
- Making individuals from the opposing nation, from a different ethnic group, or those who support the opposing viewpoint appear to be subhuman (e.g., the Vietnam War-era term “gooks” for National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam aka Vietcong, or “VC”, soldiers), worthless, or immoral, through suggestion or false accusations. Dehumanizing is also a termed used synonymously with demonizing, the latter usually serves as an aspect of the former.
- This technique hopes to simplify the decision making process by using images and words to tell the audience exactly what actions to take, eliminating any other possible choices. Authority figures can be used to give the order, overlapping it with the Appeal to authority technique, but not necessarily. The Uncle Sam “I want you” image is an example of this technique.
- The creation or deletion of information from public records, in the purpose of making a false record of an event or the actions of a person or organization, including outright forgery of photographs, motion pictures, broadcasts, and sound recordings as well as printed documents.
- Door-in-the-face technique
- Is used to increase a person’s latitude of acceptance. For example, if a salesperson wants to sell an item for $100 but the public is only willing to pay $50, the salesperson first offers the item at a higher price (e.g., $200) and subsequently reduces the price to $100 to make it seem like a good deal.
- The use of an event that generates euphoria or happiness, or using an appealing event to boost morale. Euphoria can be created by declaring a holiday, making luxury items available, or mounting a military parade with marching bands and patriotic messages.
- Fear, uncertainty and doubt
- An attempt to influence public perception by disseminating negative and dubious/false information designed to undermine the credibility of their beliefs.
- An attempt to justify an action on the grounds that doing so will make one more patriotic, or in some way benefit a country, group or idea the targeted audience supports.
- Foot-in-the-door technique
- Often used by recruiters and salesmen. For example, a member of the opposite sex walks up to the victim and pins a flower or gives a small gift to the victim. The victim says thanks and now they have incurred a psychological debt to the perpetrator. The person eventually asks for a larger favor (e.g., a donation or to buy something far more expensive). The unwritten social contract between the victim and perpetrator causes the victim to feel obligated to reciprocate by agreeing to do the larger favor or buy the more expensive gift.
- Glittering generalities
- Glittering generalities are emotionally appealing words that are applied to a product or idea, but present no concrete argument or analysis. This technique has also been referred to as the PT Barnum effect.
- A half-truth is a deceptive statement, which may come in several forms and includes some element of truth. The statement might be partly true, the statement may be totally true but only part of the whole truth, or it may utilize some deceptive element, such as improper punctuation, or double meaning, especially if the intent is to deceive, evade, blame or misrepresent the truth.
- A euphemism is used when the propagandist attempts to increase the perceived quality, credibility, or credence of a particular ideal. A Dysphemism is used when the intent of the propagandist is to discredit, diminish the perceived quality, or hurt the perceived righteousness of the Mark. By creating a “label” or “category” or “faction” of a population, it is much easier to make an example of these larger bodies, because they can uplift or defame the Mark without actually incurring legal-defamation. Example: “Liberal” is a dysphemism intended to diminish the perceived credibility of a particular Mark. By taking a displeasing argument presented by a Mark, the propagandist can quote that person, and then attack “liberals” in an attempt to both (1) create a political battle-ax of unaccountable aggression and (2) diminish the quality of the Mark. If the propagandist uses the label on too-many perceivably credible individuals, muddying up the word can be done by broadcasting bad-examples of “liberals” into the media. Labeling can be thought of as a sub-set of Guilt by association, another logical fallacy.
- Latitudes of acceptance
- If a person’s message is outside the bounds of acceptance for an individual and group, most techniques will engender psychological reactance (simply hearing the argument will make the message even less acceptable). There are two techniques for increasing the bounds of acceptance. First, one can take a more even extreme position that will make more moderate positions seem more acceptable. This is similar to the Door-in-the-Face technique. Alternatively, one can moderate one’s own position to the edge of the latitude of acceptance and then over time slowly move to the position that was previously
- Love bombing
- Used to recruit members to a cult or ideology by having a group of individuals cut off a person from their existing social support and replace it entirely with members of the group who deliberately bombard the person with affection in an attempt to isolate the person from their prior beliefs and value system.
- Lying and deception
- Lying and deception can be the basis of many propaganda techniques including Ad Homimen arguments, Big-Lie, Defamation, Door-in-the-Face, Half-truth, Name-calling or any other technique that is based on dishonesty or deception. For example, many politicians have been found to frequently stretch or break the truth.
- Managing the news
- According to Adolf Hitler “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” This idea is consistent with the principle of classical conditioning as well as the idea of “Staying on Message.”
- Milieu control
- An attempt to control the social environment and ideas through the use of social pressure
- Propagandists use the name-calling technique to incite fears and arouse prejudices in their hearers in the intent that the bad names will cause hearers to construct a negative opinion about a group or set of beliefs or ideas that the propagandist wants hearers to denounce. The method is intended to provoke conclusions about a matter apart from impartial examinations of facts. Name-calling is thus a substitute for rational, fact-based arguments against the an idea or belief on its own merits.
- Obfuscation, intentional vagueness, confusion
- Generalities are deliberately vague so that the audience may supply its own interpretations. The intention is to move the audience by use of undefined phrases, without analyzing their validity or attempting to determine their reasonableness or application. The intent is to cause people to draw their own interpretations rather than simply being presented with an explicit idea. In trying to “figure out” the propaganda, the audience forgoes judgment of the ideas presented. Their validity, reasonableness and application may still be considered.
- Obtain disapproval or Reductio ad Hitlerum
- This technique is used to persuade a target audience to disapprove of an action or idea by suggesting that the idea is popular with groups hated, feared, or held in contempt by the target audience. Thus if a group that supports a certain policy is led to believe that undesirable, subversive, or contemptible people support the same policy, then the members of the group may decide to change their original position. This is a form of bad logic, where a is said to include X, and b is said to include X, therefore, a = b.
- Operant conditioning
- Operant conditioning involves learning through imitation. For example, watching an appealing person buy products or endorse positions teaches a person to buy the product or endorse the position. Operant conditioning is the underlying principle behind the Ad Nauseam, Slogan and other repetition public relations campaigns.
- Favorable generalities are used to provide simple answers to complex social, political, economic, or military problems.
- Pensée unique
- Enforced reduction of discussion by use of overly simplistic phrases or arguments (e.g., “There is no alternative to war.”)
- Quotes out of context
- Selectively editing quotes to change meanings—political documentaries designed to discredit an opponent or an opposing political viewpoint often make use of this technique.
- Rationalization (making excuses)
- Individuals or groups may use favorable generalities to rationalize questionable acts or beliefs. Vague and pleasant phrases are often used to justify such actions or beliefs.
- Red herring
- Presenting data or issues that, while compelling, are irrelevant to the argument at hand, and then claiming that it validates the argument.
- This is the repeating of a certain symbol or slogan so that the audience remembers it. This could be in the form of a jingle or an image placed on nearly everything in the picture/scene.
- Assigning blame to an individual or group, thus alleviating feelings of guilt from responsible parties and/or distracting attention from the need to fix the problem for which blame is being assigned.
- A slogan is a brief, striking phrase that may include labeling and stereotyping. Although slogans may be enlisted to support reasoned ideas, in practice they tend to act only as emotional appeals. Opponents of the US’s invasion and occupation of Iraq use the slogan “blood for oil” to suggest that the invasion and its human losses was done to access Iraq’s oil riches. On the other hand, supporters who argue that the US should continue to fight in Iraq use the slogan “cut and run” to suggest withdrawal is cowardly or weak.
- This technique attempts to arouse prejudices in an audience by labeling the object of the propaganda campaign as something the target audience fears, hates, loathes, or finds undesirable. For instance, reporting on a foreign country or social group may focus on the stereotypical traits that the reader expects, even though they are far from being representative of the whole country or group; such reporting often focuses on the anecdotal. In graphic propaganda, including war posters, this might include portraying enemies with stereotyped racial features.
- Straw man
- A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.
- Testimonials are quotations, in or out of context, especially cited to support or reject a given policy, action, program, or personality. The reputation or the role (expert, respected public figure, etc.) of the individual giving the statement is exploited. The testimonial places the official sanction of a respected person or authority on a propaganda message. This is done in an effort to cause the target audience to identify itself with the authority or to accept the authority’s opinions and beliefs as its own.
- Third party technique
- Works on the principle that people are more willing to accept an argument from a seemingly independent source of information than from someone with a stake in the outcome. It is a marketing strategy commonly employed by Public Relations (PR) firms, that involves placing a premeditated message in the “mouth of the media.” Third party technique can take many forms, ranging from the hiring of journalists to report the organization in a favorable light, to using scientists within the organization to present their perhaps prejudicial findings to the public. Frequently astroturf groups or front groups are used to deliver the message.
- Foreign governments, particularly those that own marketable commercial products or services, often promote their interests and positions through the advertising of those goods because the target audience is not only largely unaware of the forum as vehicle for foreign messaging but also willing to receive the message while in a mental state of absorbing information from advertisements during television commercial breaks, while reading a periodical, or while passing by billboards in public spaces. A prime example of this messaging technique is advertising campaigns to promote international travel. While advertising foreign destinations and services may stem from the typical goal of increasing revenue by drawing more tourism, some travel campaigns carry the additional or alternative intended purpose of promoting good sentiments or improving existing ones among the target audience towards a given nation or region. It is common for advertising promoting foreign countries to be produced and distributed by the tourism ministries of those countries, so these ads often carry political statements and/or depictions of the foreign government’s desired international public perception. Additionally, a wide range of foreign airlines and travel-related services which advertise separately from the destinations, themselves, are owned by their respective governments; examples include, though are not limited to, the Emirates airline (Dubai), Singapore Airlines (Singapore), Qatar Airways (Qatar), China Airlines (Taiwan/Republic of China), and Air China (People’s Republic of China). By depicting their destinations, airlines, and other services in a favorable and pleasant light, countries market themselves to populations abroad in a manner that could mitigate prior public impressions.
- Thought-terminating cliché
- A commonly used phrase, sometimes passing as folk wisdom, used to quell cognitive dissonance.
- Also known as association, this is a technique that involves projecting the positive or negative qualities of one person, entity, object, or value onto another to make the second more acceptable or to discredit it. It evokes an emotional response, which stimulates the target to identify with recognized authorities. Often highly visual, this technique often utilizes symbols (e.g. swastikas) superimposed over other visual images (e.g. logos). These symbols may be used in place of words.
- Selective truth
- Richard Crossman, the British Deputy Director of Psychological Warfare Division (PWD) for the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) during the Second World War said “In propaganda truth pays… It is a complete delusion to think of the brilliant propagandist as being a professional liar. The brilliant propagandist is the man who tells the truth, or that selection of the truth which is requisite for his purpose, and tells it in such a way that the recipient does not think he is receiving any propaganda… [...] The art of propaganda is not telling lies, bur rather selecting the truth you require and giving it mixed up with some truths the audience wants to hear.”
- Unstated assumption
- This technique is used when the idea the propagandist wants to plant would seem less credible if explicitly stated. The concept is instead repeatedly assumed or implied.
- Virtue words
- These are words in the value system of the target audience that produce a positive image when attached to a person or issue. Peace, happiness, security, wise leadership, freedom, “The Truth”, etc. are virtue words. Many see religiosity as a virtue, making associations to this quality effectively beneficial. Their use is considered of the Transfer propaganda technique.
The field of Social Psychology includes the study of persuasion. Social psychologists can be sociologists or psychologists. The field includes many theories and approaches to understanding persuasion. For example, communication theory points out that people can be persuaded by the communicator’s credibility, expertise, trustworthiness, and attractiveness. The elaboration likelihood model as well as heuristic models of persuasion suggest that a number of factors (e.g., the degree of interest of the recipient of the communication), influence the degree to which people allow superficial factors to persuade them. Nobel Prize winning psychologist Herbert Simon won the Nobel prize for his theory that people are cognitive misers. That is, in a society of mass information people are forced to make decisions quickly and often superficially, as opposed to logically.
Social cognitive theories suggest that people have inherent biases in the way they perceive the world and these biases can be used to manipulate them. For example, people tend to believe that people’s misfortune (e.g., poverty) is a result of the person and downplay external factors (e.g., being born into poverty). This bias is referred to as the Fundamental Attribution Error. The self-fulfilling prophecy relates to people’s tendencies to stick with their original theories even when evidence proves their theories are incorrect. This tendency is sometimes referred to as confirmation bias. Propaganda frequently plays upon people’s existing biases to achieve its end. For example, the illusion of control, refers to people’s seemingly innate desire to believe they can and should control their lives. Propagandists frequently argue their point by claiming that the other side is attempting to take away your control. For example, Republicans frequently claim that Democrats are attempting to control you by imposing big government on your private life and take away your spending power by imposing higher taxes while Democrats frequently argue that they are reigning in big corporations that are attempting to influence elections with money, power and take away your job, health etc. … According to bipartisan analysis, these claims are frequently untrue.
Role theory is frequently used to identify an idea as appropriate because it is associated with a role. For example, the public relations firm Leo Burnett Worldwide used the Marlboro Man to persuade males that Marlboro cigarettes were a part of being a cool, risk-taking, cowboy rebel who was fearless in the face of threats of cancer. The campaign quadrupled sales of their cigarettes. Of course, smoking has nothing to do with being a cowboy or a rebel. This is a fantasy but the campaign’s success is consistent with the tenets of role theory. In fact, the three actors who played the Marlboro man died of lung cancer.
Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model
The propaganda model is a theory advanced by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky that alleges systemic biases in the mass media and seeks to explain them in terms of structural economic causes.
The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.
First presented in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media, the propaganda model views the private media as businesses selling a product — readers and audiences (rather than news) — to other businesses (advertisers) and relying primarily on government and corporate information and propaganda. The theory postulates five general classes of “filters” that determine the type of news that is presented in news media: Ownership of the medium, the medium’s Funding, Sourcing of the news, Flak, and Anti-communist ideology.
The first three (ownership, funding, and sourcing) are generally regarded by the authors as being the most important. Although the model was based mainly on the characterization of United States media, Chomsky and Herman believe the theory is equally applicable to any country that shares the basic economic structure and organizing principles the model postulates as the cause of media biases. After the Soviet Union disintegrated, Chomsky said terrorism and Islam would be the new filter replacing communism.
Ross’ epistemic merit model
The epistemic merit model is a method for understanding propaganda conceived by Sheryl Tuttle Ross and detailed in her 2002 article for the Journal of Aesthetic Education entitled “Understanding Propaganda: The Epistemic Merit Model and Its Application to Art”. Ross developed the Epistemic merit model due to concern about narrow, misleading definitions of propaganda. She contrasted her model with the ideas of Pope Gregory XV, the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, Alfred Lee, F.C. Bartlett, and Hans Speier. Insisting that each of their respective discussions of propaganda are too narrow, Ross proposed her own definition.
To appropriately discuss propaganda, Ross argues that one must consider a threefold communication model: that of Sender-Message-Receiver. “That is… propaganda involve[s]… the one who is persuading (Sender) [who is] doing so intentionally, [the] target for such persuasion (Receiver) and [the] means of reaching that target (Message).” There are four conditions for a message to be considered propaganda. Propaganda involves the intention to persuade. As well, propaganda is sent on behalf of a sociopolitical institution, organization, or cause. Next, the recipient of propaganda is a socially significant group of people. Finally, propaganda is an epistemic struggle to challenge others’ thoughts.
Ross claims that it is misleading to say that propaganda is simply false, or that it is conditional to a lie, since often the propagandist believes in what he/she is propagandizing. In other words, it is not necessarily a lie if the person who creates the propaganda is trying to persuade you of a view that they actually hold. “The aim of the propagandist is to create the semblance of credibility.” This means that they appeal to an epistemology that is weak or defective.
|“||False statements, bad arguments, immoral commands as well as inapt metaphors (and other literary tropes) are the sorts of things that are epistemically defective… Not only does epistemic defectiveness more accurately describe how propaganda endeavors to function… since many messages are in forms such as commands that do not admit to truth-values, [but it] also accounts for the role context plays in the workings of propaganda.||”|
Throughout history those who have wished to persuade have used art to get their message out. This can be accomplished by hiring artists for the express aim of propagandizing or by investing new meanings to a previously non-political work. Therefore, Ross states, it is important to consider “the conditions of its making [and] the conditions of its use.”
Propaganda has been a human activity as far back as reliable recorded evidence exists. The Behistun Inscription (c. 515 BC) detailing the rise of Darius I to the Persian throne is viewed by most historians as an early example of propaganda. The Arthashastra written by Chanakya (c. 350 – 283 BC), a professor of political science at Takshashila University and a prime minister of the Maurya Empire in ancient India, discusses propaganda in detail, such as how to spread propaganda and how to apply it in warfare. His student Chandragupta Maurya (c. 340 – 293 BC), founder of the Maurya Empire, employed these methods during his rise to power. The writings of Romans such as Livy (c. 59 BC – 17 AD) are considered masterpieces of pro-Roman propaganda. Another example of early propaganda is the 12th century work, The War of the Irish with the Foreigners, written by the Dál gCais to portray themselves as legitimate rulers of Ireland.
Propaganda during the Reformation
Propaganda during the Reformation, helped by the spread of the printing press throughout Europe, and in particular within Germany, caused new ideas, thoughts, and doctrine to be made available to the public in ways that had never been seen before the sixteenth century. The printing press was invented in approximately 1450 and quickly spread to other major cities around Europe; by the time the Reformation was underway in 1517 there were printing centers in over 200 of the major European cities. These centers became the primary producers of both Reformation works by the Protestant Reformers and anti-Reformation works put forth by the Roman Catholics.
19th and 20th centuries
Gabriel Tarde’s Laws of Imitation (1890) and Gustave Le Bon’s The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1897) were two of the first codifications of propaganda techniques, which influenced many writers afterward, including Sigmund Freud. Hitler’s Mein Kampf is heavily influenced by Le Bon’s theories. Journalist Walter Lippmann, in Public Opinion (1922) also worked on the subject, as well as the American advertising pioneer and founder of the field of public relations Edward Bernays, a nephew of Freud, who wrote the book Propaganda early in the 20th century.
During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson hired Lippmann and Bernays to participate in the Creel Commission, which was to sway popular opinion in favor of entering the war on the side of the United Kingdom. The Creel Committee provided themes for speeches by “four-minute men” at public functions, and also encouraged censorship of the American press. Starting after World War I, propaganda had a growing negative connotation. This was due in part to the 1920 book “How We Advertised America: the First Telling of the Amazing Story of the Committee on Public Information that Carried the Gospel of Americanism to Every Corner of the Globe” in which the impact of the Creel Committee, and the power of propaganda, was overemphasized. The Committee was so unpopular that after the war, Congress closed it down without providing funding to organize and archive its papers.
The war propaganda campaign of Lippmann and Bernays produced within six months such an intense anti-German hysteria as to permanently impress American business (and Adolf Hitler, among others) with the potential of large-scale propaganda to control public opinion. Bernays coined the terms “group mind” and “engineering consent”, important concepts in practical propaganda work. The file Century of the Self by Adam Curtis documents the immense influence of these ideas on public relations and politics throughout the last century.
The current public relations industry is a direct outgrowth of Lippmann’s and Bernays’ work and is still used extensively by the United States government. For the first half of the 20th century Bernays and Lippmann themselves ran a very successful public relations firm. World War II saw continued use of propaganda as a weapon of war, both by Hitler’s propagandist Joseph Goebbels and the British Political Warfare Executive, as well as the United States Office of War Information.
In the early 2000s, the United States government developed and freely distributed a video game known as America’s Army. The stated intention of the game is to encourage players to become interested in joining the U.S. Army.
Russian revolutionaries of the 19th and 20th centuries distinguished two different aspects covered by the English term propaganda. Their terminology included two terms: Russian: агитация (agitatsiya), or agitation, and Russian: пропаганда, or propaganda, see agitprop (agitprop is not, however, limited to the Soviet Union, as it was considered, before the October Revolution, to be one of the fundamental activities of any Marxist activist; this importance of agit-prop in Marxist theory may also be observed today in Trotskyist circles, who insist on the importance of leaflet distribution).
Soviet propaganda meant dissemination of revolutionary ideas, teachings of Marxism, and theoretical and practical knowledge of Marxist economics, while agitation meant forming favorable public opinion and stirring up political unrest. These activities did not carry negative connotations (as they usually do in English) and were encouraged. Expanding dimensions of state propaganda, the Bolsheviks actively used transportation such as trains, aircraft and other means.
Joseph Stalin’s regime built the largest fixed-wing aircraft of the 1930s, Tupolev ANT-20, exclusively for this purpose. Named after the famous Soviet writer Maxim Gorky who had recently returned from fascist Italy, it was equipped with a powerful radio set called “Voice from the sky”, printing and leaflet-dropping machinery, radio stations, photographic laboratory, film projector with sound for showing movies in flight, library, etc. The aircraft could be disassembled and transported by railroad if needed. The giant aircraft set a number of world records.
Most propaganda in Germany was produced by the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Joseph Goebbels was placed in charge of this ministry shortly after Hitler took power in 1933. All journalists, writers, and artists were required to register with one of the Ministry’s subordinate chambers for the press, fine arts, music, theatre, film, literature, or radio.
The Nazis believed in propaganda as a vital tool in achieving their goals. Adolf Hitler, Germany’s Führer, was impressed by the power of Allied propaganda during World War I and believed that it had been a primary cause of the collapse of morale and revolts in the German home front and Navy in 1918. Hitler met nearly every day with Goebbels to discuss the news, and Goebbels would obtain Hitler’s thoughts on the subject. Goebbels then met with senior Ministry officials to pass down the official Party line on world events. Broadcasters and journalists required prior approval before their works were disseminated. Along with posters, the Nazis produced a number of films and books to spread their beliefs.
Cold War propaganda
The United States and the Soviet Union both used propaganda extensively during the Cold War. Both sides used film, television, and radio programming to influence their own citizens, each other, and Third World nations. The United States Information Agency operated the Voice of America as an official government station. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, which were, in part, supported by the Central Intelligence Agency, provided grey propaganda in news and entertainment programs to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union respectively. The Soviet Union’s official government station, Radio Moscow, broadcast white propaganda, while Radio Peace and Freedom broadcast grey propaganda. Both sides also broadcast black propaganda programs in periods of special crises.
In 1948, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office created the IRD (Information Research Department), which took over from wartime and slightly post-war departments such as the Ministry of Information and dispensed propaganda via various media such as the BBC and publishing.
The ideological and border dispute between the Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China resulted in a number of cross-border operations. One technique developed during this period was the “backwards transmission,” in which the radio program was recorded and played backwards over the air. (This was done so that messages meant to be received by the other government could be heard, while the average listener could not understand the content of the program.)
When describing life in capitalist countries, in the US in particular, propaganda focused on social issues such as poverty and anti-union action by the government. Workers in capitalist countries were portrayed as “ideologically close”. Propaganda claimed rich people from the US derived their income from weapons manufacturing, and claimed that there was substantial racism or neo-fascism in the US.
When describing life in Communist countries, western propaganda sought to depict an image of a citizenry held captive by governments that brainwash them. The West also created a fear of the East, by depicting an aggressive Soviet Union. In the Americas, Cuba served as a major source and a target of propaganda from both black and white stations operated by the CIA and Cuban exile groups. Radio Habana Cuba, in turn, broadcast original programming, relayed Radio Moscow, and broadcast The Voice of Vietnam as well as alleged confessions from the crew of the USS Pueblo.
George Orwell’s novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four are virtual textbooks on the use of propaganda. Though not set in the Soviet Union, these books are about totalitarian regimes that constantly corrupt language for political purposes. These novels were, ironically, used for explicit propaganda. The CIA, for example, secretly commissioned an animated film adaptation of Animal Farm in the 1950s with small changes to the original story to suit its own needs.